Yes, they lost. But there was plenty of good to discuss after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins, on the night the Bruins landed on Causeway Street for the first time this season.
They had plenty of chances. Tons of opportunity. Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel were flying. Tim Thomas was the last pillar of a strong defense that held up against all-world talents Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
And again, it bears mentioning, they had tons of scoring chances they didn't bury. But the Bruins, despite the score, tonight called their home opener a success.
“As far as I'm concerned,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, speaking after his team ran their record to 2-1-2, "you ask me my opinion, we were the better team tonight."
They were. The Bruins controlled play for much of the game, earning chance after chance. They buried one (Phil Kessel, second period), but couldn't get over the hump. That was the bad.
But first, the good. Bergeron returned in a big way, earning a huge ovation during player introductions and landing a game-high seven shots on net. Though he was held off the scoresheet, No. 37 was the same player seen in the early weeks of 2007 – a force in all three zones.
“I think this was a big game for him, obviously,” said Julien of Bergeron's home debut. “He did everything we wanted him to do, except right now I think he's frustrated because he's got some good opportunities and he's not able to finish. But that's a normal thing -- when you haven't played for a year, it's going to take some time. When he regains his touch, we'll have a pretty good player.”
The Bruins held Malkin and Crosby in check for much of the night, but the two combined to put the Pens on the board late in the first. With a Bruin man-advantage almost up, Malkin grabbed the puck and turned the play up the ice. He got space and fired on Tim Thomas (31 saves), who kicked out a juicy rebound. Pittsburgh's Miroslav Satan, fresh out of the box, rushed in and snapped the puck high over a sprawling Thomas.
“They have a lot of speed, and they're not afraid to go through two D to split you up,” said Chara of the Penguins' Big Two. “They try to use their speed, with short plays. They try to make cross-seam passes, they're not afraid to do that. But we had good gaps against them. Most of the time we didn't turn the puck over against them too much. They're going to create some kind of chances, because they're that good.”
Crosby, who earned took his first career fighting major at the Garden last year (battling Andrew Ference), took on Marc Savard in the corner in the third period, drawing the ire of the Garden onlookers. He was the target of boos and chants all night long.
"We're going to see that each and every time we play," said Crosby on the atmosphere. "It's hard to win on the road. (Boston has) got a great team and for us that was a good test."
Phil Kessel evened the score in the second period, whipping wrister from 40 feet past Sabourin's glove on the power play. It was his fifth tally of the young season, and the big play in an evening where Kessel did the little things correctly, getting in front of shots, chipping pucks out of the zone, and showing dynamic skills on the rush in 20:08 of ice time.
“He's playing with a lot of confidence, and I think that's the most important thing,” said Chara. “When he has the puck, he's not afraid to challenge a defenseman one-on-one. He's done a pretty good job so far. You need guys like that to step up and put the puck in the net.”
When asked if Kessel could step up to be the Bruins' go-to sniper, Chara interrupted his inquisitor.
“He is already,” said Chara. “We know that he can score goals. He can make (a difference) in the game. It's up to him, if he wants to keep playing like this or find an easy way out. Hopefully not, and (hopefully) he keeps improving, because he's a hell of a player.”
Kessel's goal, at 13:53 of the second, was the only chance the Bruins converted in regular time. Kessel also scored in the shootout, lifting a backhand, top left, over Dany Sabourin (35 saves). But Petr Sykora and Malkin answered for Pittsburgh, and Sabourin kicked out Marc Savard's fifth-round attempt to seal the shootout win.
“You want to come out with a point,” said Julien. “I thought we deserved better tonight. Nonetheless, we played well enough to win. Unfortunately, same old, same old in the shootout, we came out in the short end of it.”
“We played a really good game tonight against some really good offensive players,” said Thomas. “We should feel good about what we did tonight.”